This was not supposed to be aspirational:

Our IQ levels are falling, and no one knows exactly why. But scientists largely agree on this: It’s due to something in the environment, not to the presence of more people with less-than-stellar genes.

For much of the 20th century, human intelligence steadily rose. James Flynn, a New Zealand intelligence researcher, was the one who noticed this trend. His research showed our intelligence quotients, or IQs, were rising about three IQ points per decade back then. But new research says this “Flynn Effect,” as it became known, is over.

From 1962 to 1991, scientists studied nearly 750,000 Norwegian men. Their research, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June 2018, showed the Flynn Effect continued until 1975, when IQ levels abruptly began to decline. And steeply — some seven IQ points per generation. The study also showed, however, that familial intelligence declined throughout the same time frame, indicating the reason or reasons behind the loss of smarts wasn’t due to a sudden increase in less-intelligent people having more children, but rather to environmental factors. Similar studies in countries such as Britain, France and the Netherlands have shown the same results.

Top 10 Countries with the Highest Average IQ – Ulster Institute 2019:

  1. Japan – 106.49
  2. Taiwan – 106.47
  3. Singapore – 105.89
  4. Hong Kong (China) – 105.37
  5. China – 104.10
  6. South Korea – 102.35
  7. Belarus – 101.60
  8. Finland – 101.20
  9. Liechtenstein – 101.07
  10. Netherlands & Germany (tie) – 100.74

Top 10 Smartest Countries Based on Students’ Test Scores in Reading, Maths and Science – OECD PISA 2018:

  1. China – 555, 591, 590
  2. Singapore – 549, 569, 551
  3. Macau (China) – 525, 558, 544
  4. Hong Kong (China) – 524, 551, 517
  5. Estonia – 523, 523, 530
  6. Canada – 520, 512, 518
  7. Finland – 520, 507, 522
  8. Ireland – 518, 500, 496
  9. Korea – 514, 526, 519
  10. Poland – 512, 516, 511

But where is the UK?

20United Kingdom99.1268,207,116
21Greenland98.8956,877
22North Korea98.8225,887,041

The average UK IQ is now below 100. But why?

What’s behind the loss of smarts? Scientists hypothesize changes in our education systems, nutrition, the current media environment, a decline in reading and an increase in online activity as possible culprits. Some blame the IQ test itself, which favours crystallised intelligence, or things you have been taught or learned over time, over fluid intelligence, which is your ability to use logic and observational skills to solve problems. Today, they say, more educational emphasis is on fluid intelligence, which could be the reason for our supposed intellectual decline.

There’s also technology. Another study, performed by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, found people could retain and process data significantly better if their smartphones were in another room. Just turning their phone off, or even hiding it in a pocket or bag, didn’t work; phone owners still suffered brain drain when their device was nearby.

How Stuff Works

People are getting dumber. That’s not a judgment; it’s a global fact. In a host of leading nations, IQ scores have started to decline.

Though there are legitimate questions about the relationship between IQ and intelligence, and broad recognition that success depends as much on other virtues like gritIQ tests in use throughout the world today really do seem to capture something meaningful and durable. Decades of research have shown that individual IQ scores predict things such as educational achievement and longevity. More broadly, the average IQ score of a country is linked to economic growth and scientific innovation.

Even children born to high-IQ parents are slipping down the IQ ladder.

So if IQ scores are really dropping, that could not only mean 15 more seasons of the Kardashians, but also the potential end of progress on all these other fronts, ultimately leading to fewer scientific breakthroughs, stagnant economies and a general dimming of our collective future.

These raw scores have been rising on a variety of standard IQ tests for over half a century. That may sound odd if you think of IQ as largely hereditary. But current IQ tests are designed to measure core cognitive skills such as short-term memory, problem-solving speed and visual processing, and rising scores show that these cognitive capabilities can actually be sharpened by environmental factors such as higher-quality schools and more demanding workplaces.

For a while, rising IQ scores seemed like clear evidence of social progress, palpable proof that humanity was getting steadily smarter — and might even be able to boost brainpower indefinitely. Scholars called it the “Flynn effect,” in homage to J.R. Flynn, the researcher who recognized its full sweep and import.

These days, however, Flynn himself concedes that “the IQ gains of the 20th century have faltered.” A range of studies using a variety of well-established IQ tests and metrics have found declining scores across Scandinavia, Britain, Germany, France and Australia.

Details vary from study to study and from place to place given the available data. IQ shortfalls in Norway and Denmark appear in longstanding tests of military conscripts, whereas information about France is based on a smaller sample and a different test. But the broad pattern has become clearer: Beginning around the turn of the 21st century, many of the most economically advanced nations began experiencing some kind of decline in IQ.

One potential explanation was quasi-eugenic. As in the movie “Idiocracy,” it was suggested that average intelligence is being pulled down because lower-IQ families are having more children (“dysgenic fertility” is the technical term). Alternatively, widening immigration might be bringing less-intelligent newcomers to societies with otherwise higher IQs.

However, a 2018 study of Norway has punctured these theories by showing that IQs are dropping not just across societies but within families. In other words, the issue is not that educated Norwegians are increasingly outnumbered by lower-IQ immigrants or the children of less-educated citizens. Even children born to high-IQ parents are slipping down the IQ ladder.

Some environmental factor — or collection of factors — is causing a drop in the IQ scores of parents and their own children, and older kids and their younger siblings. One leading explanation is that the rise of lower-skill service jobs has made work less intellectually demanding, leaving IQs to atrophy as people flex their brains less.

One leading explanation is that the rise of lower-skill service jobs has made work less intellectually demanding, leaving IQs to atrophy as people flex their brains less.

There are also other possibilities, largely untested, such as global warming making food less nutritious or information-age devices sapping our ability to focus.

Ultimately, it’d be nice to pin down the precise reason IQ scores are dropping before we’re too stupid to figure it out, especially as these scores really do seem connected to long-term productivity and economic success.

And while we might be able to compensate with skills besides intelligence, like determination or passion, in a world where IQ scores continue to fall — and where the drop expands to places like the United States — there’s also a bleaker scenario: a global intelligence crisis that undermines humanity’s problem-solving capacity and leaves us ill-equipped to tackle the complex challenges posed by AI, global warming and developments we have yet to imagine.

THINK

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1 COMMENT

  1. Migration & socialism.
    The influx of economic migrants who are almost exclusively of less intelligent breeds
    Then we have socialism, this has encouraged the least intelligent of the indigenous population to breed excessively because of the benefits these children bring.

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